“We’re not the LA Galaxy - we don’t have all that glamour,” Houston Dynamo’s influential defender, Andre Hainault admitted to FIFA.com on the eve of Sunday’s MLS Cup title decider between the two clubs. “We’re a different type of team, Houston is a different type of city – the weather’s not the best, it’s hot all the time, and we don’t have all the big-name players and profile that LA has.”
Sunday’s one-off final, which decides MLS’ champion for the year, is destined to be a clash of styles, footballing cultures and approaches to success. While the Galaxy have spent vast sums of cash to create a super-club in keeping with the city’s status as one of the world’s glamour capitals, Houston Dynamo have quietly set about the business of building a sturdy, competitive team, and one with a comparatively modest pay package.
Longtime USA coach Bruce Arena has a locker-room in LA brimming with international superstars like David Beckham, Robbie Keane – who recently led the Republic of Ireland to their first EURO finals since 1988 – and American soccer poster-boy Landon Donovan. Houston’s big names aren’t quite as big: one time US striker Brian Ching, in and out of Arena’s squads when he held the national team reins, on-loan Honduran Carlo Costly and Canada-born Hainault, who has had a breakout season. A fierce esprit de corps pervades the Dynamo, a strong, athletic team of journeymen and grafters.
In fact, their brightest shining star from this season is likely to miss out on Sunday. Midfielder Brad Davis, on the shortlist for the MLS’ player of the season award, still struggles with a muscle injury and is expected to be unavailable. “We have the kind of players on the bench that can step in and do a job for us when somebody goes down hurt, no matter who it is,” said Hainault – a no-nonsense defender who specialises in scoring from set-pieces at crucial moments. “Brad [Davis] might play or he might not, but we have hungry guys who are ready to step up.
LA’s Fortress Home Depot
One factor looming large over Sunday’s winner-take-all contest is the venue. The Galaxy will be playing at home, a decision taken at the start of the season, at a Home Depot Center where they have not lost all season. “There’s no use worrying about it or complaining to the league – it won’t make any difference,” added Hainault, 25, who once played club football in the Czech Republic and is again garnering attention from some of Europe’s top leagues after a season of consistently impressive form.
The Canadian international defender, equally at home on the right, left or in the centre of defence, isn’t unduly worried by playing on the road in hostile territory. “We like to play away now,” he said, noting the fact that the team’s road form has consistently improved after a rough start to the season. “You saw it in the Eastern Conference finals [where Houston beat Kansas City on the road] and we know a lot of our fans will travel to support us too.”
Hainault is a humble, modest player whose enthusiasm and effort inspires those around him. A native of Quebec, Canada, he is that quiet, unaffected breed of footballer that can often be the difference between a title-winning season and a runners-up finish. “He’s one of those guys that doesn’t really get noticed too much because he just goes about his business,” said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, who led the side to two MLS titles since the club’s establishment in Texas in 2006.
“He’s honest, tough and you know you’re in a game when you play against him,” continued the coach, a former USA international of note. “If there’s a ball bouncing around the box, he’s the one throwing his body in front to block it.”
Neither LA Galaxy nor Houston Dynamo have played a game since the play-offs ended two weeks ago, giving a heightened sense of anticipation to Sunday’s main event. Few give Houston much chance to upset the apple cart, but with a side of scrappers and foragers, you can never count them out. “We’ll be in their backyard,” Hainault said, “but we know what we’re about as a team and we’re here for a reason.”